Anger

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Ephesians 4:26-27

Whenever we become angry, Satan is lurking nearby, looking for that little opening through which he can gain a foothold.

Anger is the fiery sin. Think about how many of the words which we use to describe anger draw their imagery from heat or fire. An angry person is steaming, fuming, burned up, hot under the collar. Their anger smolders until it becomes so heated that eventually it boils over. All of those powerful, hot words are telling us that anger is extremely dangerous. Anger is the sin that will most quickly lead to injury, the sin which is swiftest to shed blood.

Anger is a sin of passion, an experience of the loss of rational control over our feelings. We say of a very angry person that he is “beside himself” with rage. In other words, it’s almost like someone who is gripped with a fierce rage is no longer occupying his own body or that he’s out of his mind. Why do you think we use the word mad which, of course, originally meant “insane” as a synonym for “angry?” Stop and recall the physical changes that occur to us when we become really angry. Our blood pressure skyrockets; our faces turn red and our eyes grow wild; our hands tremble, our fists begin to clench, our feet stamp and our voices rise. We are out of control. That’s what anger does. It is very like a form of temporary insanity, isn’t it?

WHAT TO DO ABOUT ANGER

Here is a helpful word about anger from the Bible. Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV, says this:

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

I think this text tells us three important things about anger. The first thing that we learn is that we are going to be angry. “In your anger do not sin,” says the apostle, which means that the Bible assumes the fact of anger. In some versions this verse is translated: “Be angry but don’t sin.” That may be a little too strong, but nevertheless we see clearly here the recognition that anger is a natural reaction; it’s a normal experience. There simply are times when we will be angry.

In fact, there are times when we need to be angry. You’ve probably said this to someone: “Take it easy! You need to let off a little steam.” Well, it’s true. Anger can be a kind of safety valve. If we didn’t have an occasional emotional thunderstorm, soon the pressure and tension within us could grow to be unbearable. If you are alive, if you are a thinking and feeling human being, you are going to be angry. It’s no virtue to be an emotional slug, to just sit there not feeling anything because you don’t care about anything. In fact, that’s also a deadly sin; it’s the sin of sloth, as we’ll see in our next message. I’ll go a step further and say that not only are there times when we’re going to be angry, and times when we need to be angry; there are times when we ought to be angry.

WHEN ANGER IS RIGHT

Some situations demand a response of anger. We all face circumstances where the only right way to act is to become really angry. At such times it would be a sin not to be angry. There is such a thing as moral indignation. This kind of anger is right and justified. In fact, I think it’s something that is all too lacking in some of us. We tend to be angry when we should be calm and apathetic when instead we should be angry. Our communities would be better places if there were a little bit more anger in our midst, anger directed at the proper targets.

But when is it right to be angry? What’s the difference between sinful anger and righteous indignation? The best way to answer that question is to look at the example of the Lord Jesus. The most famous instance of Jesus’ anger came in the incident in the gospel known as the cleansing of the temple. Jesus became furious one day when he discovered the crowd of bankers and merchants selling sacrificial animals who were taking unfair advantage of the religious pilgrims coming to worship in the temple. So he made a whip and drove them all away. Jesus’ example teaches us two things about righteous anger. It teaches us, first of all, that anger is justified when we see God being dishonored, and, secondly, when we see human beings victimized, abused, or otherwise taken advantage of. Anger is justified when it is outrage in the face of sin.

But not when it’s merely rage at being denied something for ourselves. We are not entertaining righteous indignation when we get mad because we didn’t get what we wanted or have our own way. Have you ever seen a plaything taken away from a toddler? You know how it goes: a two-year-old grabs an expensive dish off a table and starts waving it around wildly. Then Mommy rushes over and pries the dish out of his hand before it gets smashed. And what happens next? A temper tantrum. The child becomes angry because someone has said no to him.

So when do you get angry? Do you get angry when you hear about executives walking away from bankrupt corporations with hundreds of millions of dollars while their employees lose their jobs and their life savings? Do you become enraged at the thought that there are children in our cities who go to bed homeless and hungry? Does it upset you to hear people mock God and routinely profane his name? Good! You should be angry at these and many other abuses. But when you’re angry, be careful.

ANGRY? BEWARE!

The second thing our text teaches us is a warning that anger is a very dangerous thing. In fact, we are told that anger is a prime opportunity for Satan to slip into our lives, and that goes even for righteous anger. “In your anger do not sin,” scripture says, and then it adds: “Do not give the devil a foothold.” Anger is dangerous because it so quickly and easily does lead us to sin. Whenever we become angry, Satan is lurking nearby, looking for that little opening through which he can gain a foothold.

Do you know why people say, “Bless you,” or “Gesundheit!” when you sneeze? Because long ago it was believed that a sneeze opened your soul for just a moment to the threat of invasion by an evil spirit. So somebody nearby would protect the sneezer by saying a charm or a blessing over them – a custom we still observe long after the reason for it has been forgotten. We’re no longer superstitious about sneezing, but maybe we should be more careful about anger. The time we’re truly vulnerable to evil influence is when we’re angry.

Think about how quickly and easily anger opens us up to more sin, to violence, to hurt and bloodshed. I said earlier that the essence of anger is the loss of self-control. There’s a reason, you know, why drunkenness is so closely linked with rage. When you’re out of control, it’s so easy to do harm that you later regret bitterly. You lash out, you strike a blow or say a word. It happens in an instant; without thinking, without deciding, without really wanting to, but you’ve hurt another person. Later on you wish you could undo the damage, but it’s too late. The blow can’t be recalled; the angry words can’t be unspoken. Think about all the violence in our world that is fueled by rage. From mobs rioting in the streets, to terrorists attacking innocent civilians, right down to two neighbors shouting at each other across the back fence, everywhere we look we see anger inflicting injury, often upon the innocent.

Anger is also dangerous because it so quickly turns selfish. We like to think that it’s injustice that makes us angry. We like to believe that our wrath is aroused by other people’s offenses. But isn’t it usually the wrong done to us that gets our attention? Here’s a small example: road rage. When somebody cuts you off on the highway, is it really the recklessness of the act that makes you mad? Are you righteously indignant at this offense against the standards of good driving? Or – let’s be honest – are you mostly enraged by what feels like a personal insult (“He can’t do that to me!”)? Our anger is usually selfish. It’s a symptom of our wounded pride. And that’s what allows Satan to gain a foothold in our lives, leading to all other kinds of sin and so much hurt and devastation. So we must be careful. “In your anger, do not sin … do not give the devil a foothold.”

ANGER MANAGEMENT

Here’s one more helpful, practical point from out text. It’s really a way of learning to control our anger and guard against the abuses that losing our temper can lead to: “Do not let the sun go down while your are still angry.” In other words, don’t nurse your anger. Never hang onto it. Paul tells us, in effect, to never go to bed angry – which, incidentally, is especially good advice for couples.

One sure way of controlling your anger and purging yourself from its harmful effects is to practice forgiveness. Jesus had some very interesting commands for his followers about how to deal with hard feeling between them. He says in one place that if you are preparing for worship and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, go to them immediately. In other words, if you are the offender, if you have done something which makes another person angry, you must take the initiative to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. But there’s another passage in the same Gospel where Jesus says, “If your brother sins against you then you go and be reconciled.” His directive is the same whether we are the offending or the offended party. Where there is animosity, where there is anger, where there is a broken relationship, you must go. You must take the first step toward reconciliation, forgiveness and being forgiving. And do it now. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger.

In order to do that we must learn to replace anger with its opposite virtue, the grace of gentleness, or meekness. In place of anger, God calls us as followers of Jesus to be gentle. Remember the example of the Lord, who said, “I am meek and lowly of heart.” Meekness and gentleness are fruits of the Spirit. The Bible says that the qualities of the Spirit-filled life include patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control.

It’s true that gentleness is a virtue which the world has little use for. The world equates gentleness with weakness or spinelessness. If somebody is meek, you may just walk over them and chew them up and spit them out again! But gentleness is the quality that God loves because it’s the quality that Jesus Christ himself displayed. One of God’s great jokes which he’s playing on the world is that in the last day all of the angry people – the terrorists and the dictators, the rioters and the revolutionaries, the bullies and the thugs – are going to be swept away. And it is the meek who will inherit the earth.

So keep the example of Jesus Christ in your mind. And cultivate that gentleness that’s pleasing to God. One exercise for growing this particular fruit of the Spirit is to practice gentle speech. There’s a direct relationship between anger and meekness and the way we talk. A wise man wrote in the book of Proverbs that a soft answer turns away wrath but harsh words stir up anger. And that’s true not only with somebody we’re talking to. It’s true for ourselves as well. Soft words can turn away our own anger; turning down the volume is a significant step in controlling rage.

So let’s remember: “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you’re still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”